East Coast meets West!

The dull gray dome of clouds has lifted! Sunshine is happily filling the sky, chasing the ground in amongst fluffy white clouds drifting lazily along. It's days like this that make me feel like spring is sprung, and summer isn't far behind and we won't see more rain for a long time. But it doesn't fool me anymore! It may look nice and warm out, but I'm still toting along my rain jacket for when it threatens. (I swear, one of these days I'll make it through a blog entry without mentioning any gloomy weather!)

Fortunately, it seems that whenever we do leave the Granite City, we're graced with better weather and that's just what happened on our four-day road trip. It was forecasted to be a horrible, snowy, stormy weekend. But after much consideraton we decided that Scotland's weather changes almost faster than a heeland coo Highland cow can moo, so we hedged our bets and loaded up the little Micra. Our trek was simple - start out in Aberdeen, drive down to the bottom of Loch (Lake) Lomond for a scenic detour, stop overnight in Oban on the coast, head to Mallaig to catch a fairy to the Isle of Skye, circle around Skye and see all the island has to offer, then head back to Aberdeen by way of Inverness. It was roughly 500 miles and 10+ hours of driving to get across the country and back and we made it with no flat tires, engine trouble or major car sickness. (Let it be known that a penchant for getting car sick in itty bitty vehicles combined with the UK's windy roads and never-ending roundabouts is a recipe for... well, you know.)

Loch Lomond was gorgeous and the bright blue skies, icy blue snow-capped mountains and dark cerulean waters set quite the stage for some scenic shots. The loch is the largest surface area freshwater lake in Great Britian and is featured in photographs and songs all over the UK. It also has some well-known golf courses near by like Loch Lomond Golf Club (which will host the 2010 Scottish Open Golf) and Carrick Golf Club.

As I mentioned above, our first night's stay was in Oban at the Oban Bay Hotel. I absolutely loved it here, the coastal town of 8,000 was fairly quiet and nestled right on a horseshoe bay feeding into the Atlantic ocean. Like a crown sitting atop the city, Oban's McCaig's Tower is made completely of granite and bulits in the late 1800s. it was commissioned by wealthy banker John McCaig, who wanted to create a monument to his family and provide work for the local stonemasons in the winter months. We checked in then headed to a seafood restaurant on the wharf and had grilled haddock on top of mashed potatoes with a cheesy sauce and sampled two of the local Oban brews, Skelpt Lug and Skinny Blonde. My ale was very much like a lager and I really liked it!

After dinner came a nice treat - the hotel's outdoor hot tub, which closely resembled a giant cask, overlooking the Atlantic. We ran outside to see if anyone was in it, found it empty, raced upstairs and changed into our swimsuits and then back downstairs with plastic cups full of wine, shivered into the cold outdoor air and ooh'd and aah'd our way into the luxuriously warm water and jets. Heaven in a barrel, bliss in a bucket. It was so wonderful and so relaxing that it completely escaped my mind to take any pictures. But here's one from the hotel's web site and one of our view across the Atlantic:

The next morning we met up with our friend, Ryan, who'd taken the late train in the night before, and grabbed some breakfast at our hotel. I followed that up with a Swedish massage then packed up our bags and away we went! We drove up to Mallaig, where we caught a ferry across to the Isle of Skye. It was only a 20 or 30 minute ride and the sun was shining the whole way. Once on the island, we made our way to Skye's capital town of Portree and bunked there for the night. Though it wasn't my favourite place, it was still neat to spend so much time in coastal areas.

We found a local hotel with availability and a good rate and stowed our bags then went in search of dinner. Afterwards, we dropped in at a local pub just in time to warm up by the fire on some comfy leather couches until two guitar players came in for some live music. We were expecting something "Scottish" but they ended up playing mostly American songs, like Brown Eyed Girl, instead!

From there, a few raindrops threatened our little caravan of one but we never suffered much in the way of bad weather as we headed to the Northern most point of the Isle and then back down again. It was amazing to see the craggy cliffs, Highland cows and wildlife, waterfalls and moutainous views. We even watched a sheep waltz across the road to join its mates. It was so nice not have an agenda, nothing to pressure us to hurry or rush our way around. If we saw something we wanted to investigate, we simply pulled over and did it!

We had intended to see the Isle of Skye Brewery, but when we found it in Uig it was little more than a plain-faced building with a souvenir shop inside. They didn't offer tours, so we took a quick look around and then got back on the road and made our way to Dunvegan castle. But they didn't allow pictures inside, so we only got a couple exterior shots!!

The gardens weren't exactly in bloom, since winter is just now relenting its hold on the seasons, and there was a great deal of scaffolding and work being done on the castle itself. So it was hard to take it all in. But Dunvegan is the oldest continously inhabited castle in Scotland, and is the home of the Chiefs of MacLeod for the past 800 years. It was a built atop a rock and has survived many a battle, we even took a peek into the dungeon. It was sobering to think of someone getting thrown into an underground rocky prison with no windows or light source! It was a single opening in the floor of one of the castle's rooms, with a severe drop off into the dungeon below. Cast aside next to the opening was a very heavy stone seal, to keep the prisoners locked away.

Looking through some of the historical artifacts, I was able to read an original letter written by Sir Walter Scott, thanking the lady of the house for such a nice stay during his visit. Queen Elizabeth II also graced the castle with her presence. Before leaving, we stopped in the visitor shop and bought a CD of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers. When we got back to the car, we popped it in and didn't realize the speakers were already up really loud. Our little Nissan Micra start blaring "We Will Rock You", but in bagpipes (or "bagrock" as their CD claims), and the people around us started laughing at these foreigners jamming out to the Scottish instrument. We ended up listening to it the rest of our trip!

We drove for a couple hours from Dunvegan all the way back onto the mainland, intending to stay in Kyle of Localsh. But the city looked a little dead so we kept on driving, running our gas tank to within 15 miles of running out!! Gas stations are NOT easy to find here! I was prepared to have to hike it across the highlands to find some when our Micra finally stuttered to a halt. Thank goodness it gets upwards of 40 miles to the gallon.

I had read about the Eilean Donan castle but wasn't sure it would work well on our route. However, it wasn't much of a detour at all before we ended up in Dornie, looking for a B&B for the night. Turns out, the castle was right in front of us! It was absolutely gorgeous and we gawked at it and took some pictures (it was already closed for the day) before heading across the street to find a room. We ended up with a heckuva deal at a little B&B owned by the nicest couple. Our room even came with an extra big bathtub, and I enjoyed a long soak and some good book reading time the next morning.

Our evening included dinner at the local restaurant, and it was so good. I had leek and tarragon chicken with fresh veggies and roast potatoes, and some whisky! The former fishing village is literally one main street with a pub or two, a couple hotels, and a few small shops. In 2006, the census waas 360 folks! But for such a small town, it had a lot of appeal. After dinner, we "popped" into the neighborhood pub for a couple of drinks and had fun people watching, looking through pictures of our trip and talking to some of the locals - including a nice gal from California who'd moved to Edinburgh last year and married her very own Scotsman.

The next morning involved sunny blue skies again (see? whenever we leave Aberdeen the weather always improves!) and we bought our tickets into the Eilean Donan castle. It was absolutely spectacular. I think we spent a good 30 minutes outside the castle entrance taking pictures of the mirror-like placid waters, which perfectly reflected the surrounding mountains, bridge, castle and clouds. Inside, it was full of gorgeous still-standing architecture - much of which had been carefully restored. It's one of the most photographed castles in the country and I also learned that the castle had been used in several films:

The location where the MacLeod clan sets off to battle.

Made of Honor
Yep, it's the castle used for the wedding!

The World Is Not Enough
It is used to depict M16's exterior operations center at "Castle Thane."

Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Eilean Donan castle is used in place of the Fortheringay Castle depicted in the film.

Click on images to enlarge!

Happy with our beautiful photos and seeing such a nice sight at the end of our trip, we hoofed it back to Aberdeen by way of Inverness, admiring all the absolutely adorable baby lambs that have been born in the past few weeks. They are so cute tottering around in the fields next to their mommas, or basking in the warm sun. When they're laying down, all you can see is their spindly little legs sticking out and a big head with floppy ears! I kept trying to find a good place to stop and take some pictures but never found one. (Mike mentioned we might go on the search just outside of Aberdeen this weekend, I haven't given up hope yet!)

Our road trip turned to be a great success, and I'm so thankful we were blessed with good weather and a good time. I think the hot tub in Oban and the Eilean Donan castle were my two favorite highlights from the trip. Truly spectacular!

“There are two seasons in Scotland: June and winter.”

~Billy Connolly

1 comment:

  1. Oh MY!!! What a wonderful trip and THANK you for sharing it in words with US! I feel as if I just returned home! Looking forward to visiting London along with you and Mike....in words! GREAT story! You should submit this to one of the magazines! Total armchair travel JOY!


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